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Valley AutoNation Toyota doubles showroom space, and more to come

Saturday's Spokesman Review featured a quick story on the visit by AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to celebrate the Spokane Valley reopening of its newly remodeled AutoNation Toyota Scion Spokane Valley dealership.

For those who work for the company here, it was quite the deal. The photo above was shot the morning of Friday, Feb. 14, showing a brand new Toyota Tundra out front of the new showroom. This was right during Jackson's visit to the dealership.

Inside, you can make out some of the guests and associates gathered for an employee breakfast and presentation.

The automobile dealership, at 8600 East Sprague Ave., is one of 10 AutoNation locations in Spokane County.

Later that day we chatted by phone with Dustin Esco, the GM for AutoNation's Valley Toyota dealership. One question we had: How much pressure does Toyota put on companies to upgrade facilities?

His answer: “It's not actual pressure. But they do want their facilities (at franchises) to be state of the art and up to speed.”

Esco said the downtown Larry H. Miiller dealership group is already doing the same kind of remodel.

In 2009 Parker Toyota in Coeur d'Alene invested a large sum in a complete rebuild of its dealership.



Itron announces new stock repurchase plan, buying up to $50M in shares

On Wednesday, the same day Itron Inc. posted its 4Q and 2013 fiscal year results, the company also announced it plans to repurchase up to $50 million in common stock.

Like Apple earlier this month, the company knows it wants to protect shareholder value, and buybacks are one of the basic tools to accomplish that.

Itron's announcement was timed, appropriately, to a fairly dismal quarterly report. The company failed to hit analyst earnings targets.

Its plan is to make the purchases over the next 12 months, and will start on March 7 this year. That date marks the end of a current repurchase program.

Itron's formal release said the following:

“This new repurchase program reaffirms our commitment to returning value to shareholders,” said Philip Mezey, Itron president and chief executive officer. “We have repurchased over 2.6 million shares since the fourth quarter of 2011, representing nearly seven percent of the outstanding shares. The strength of our balance sheet provides us with the flexibility to continue repurchasing shares while investing in growth opportunities for the business.”


GSI sponsoring Thursday morning health care act overview for area employers

Greater Spokane Incorporated is hosting a health care symposium Thursday morning, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Davenport Hotel. It's scheduled to end at 9:30 a.m.

The panel will present health and insurance professionals discussing the Affordable Care Act and what employers and individuals should know. Online registration is closed.  Registration will be available at the door.

For more details, check out the GSI link here.  Cost is $25 for GSI members, $30 otherwise.

The agenda online listed these presenters:

  • Compliance: what businesses need to know, do, how and when, and how's the rest of the country doing? With Heidi Alessi, Partner, K&L Gates/Seattle.
  • Washington's Health Benefit Exchange - updates for employers and how it aligns with the ACA. With Nelly Kinsella, Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
  • Dental care and the A.C.A - in or out and for whom?  With Sean Pickard, director of government affairs, Delta Dental of Washington.
  • The big picture from provider and insurance perspectives. With Kelly Stanford, Vice President, Spokane Development for Group Health.



Cyan releases modernized Myst, loaded with new visual and sonic improvements

A big day for fans of Mead-based Cyan Inc. It's the official release of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. This version is an augmented, spiffed-up version of Myst, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. It's also a replacement for the 2000 edition of realMyst, which took the original game into 3-D.

The official press release reads: ”Cyan, Inc. announces the availability of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition - a completely updated version of realMyst for MacOS and Windows. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition delivers the rich story and gameplay of the original Myst in a visually and aurally stunning, dynamic, realtime 3D experience updated for today's computers and graphics cards.

“Myst was originally released in 1993 to both critical and popular acclaim. Its storyline, environments, graphics, music, and interface created an award winning experience that made it the best-selling game of the last millennium. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition shakes that original adventure forward - updating the journey to a state-of-the-art experience. The realtime 3D environment allows for complete freedom of motion and viewing - with seamless movement from place to place. And the new, easy-to-use Classic Mode navigation option provides a simple point-and-click exploration that works just like the original Myst.

Company co-founder Rand Miller said, “To explore the islands and Ages of Myst in real time…it's an amazing feeling. We wanted to recreate the Myst experience of 20 years ago but with the sophistication that today's computer can deliver.”

The ease of the “classic” Myst interface was not an easy thing to implement. “We located and marked every still image location and angle from the original Myst in 3D space in realMyst.” said Jason Calvert, senior software engineer for the project. “The idea was to provide an uncompromising 3D experience with the point and click interface that made the original Myst accessible to anyone.”

The real time version also makes possible visual enhancements such as day and night cycles, rippling water, waving branches, falling rain, moving clouds, setting suns, and more. And since exploration can take place at night, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition offers a unique new addition - a flashlight. The audio also benefits from real time with sounds that emanate from specific locations and react realistically as the player explores.”

This edition is priced at $17.99 US. It is available immediately for MacOS and Windows on Steam and the Mac App Store. For current owners of the original version of realMyst on Steam, there is a 33 percent discount.

Here’s the CNBC story on the rise of the Caribbean phone call scam

Just to revisit the question and blog post from Monday, here's a link to a CNBC story on the same concern — the “one ring” scam that tries to get you to call back a suspicious cell phone number.

Our post yesterday noted the Washington state AG's office said consumers need to be on the alert for this scam, which involves trying to con consumers into dialing a number originating — so it says — somewhere in the Caribbean.

The CNBC report notes: “You'll be connected to an expensive international hotline—usually an “adult entertainment” service—that charges as much as $19.95 as soon as you connect. There may also be a sizable per-minute fee. Those costs typically show up on your phone bill as “premium services.”

We have asked the AG's office to identify, if they can, who exactly is the beneficiary of this scam.  Who's the company or service that would reap some money from the scam?  No answer yet.


Caribbean scammers trying to get you to answer bogus calls from Antigua

You or someone you know has probably been targeted by the nefarious Island Call Back Gang.

That's our name, anyway, for the spate of phone calls coming into mobile phones that say they're from Antigua, Barbuda or Jamaica.

The Washington Attorney General's office on Monday issued an alert to warn consumers to not answer those calls. Better yet, if you're wise, you should instantly block future calls from those numbers.

According to the AG's office, the calls come from a Caribbean scam squad who are trying to pump up international call fees for … who knows, some obscure calling company somewhere. Or for some “adult” chat service that can rack up charges just by having you wait on hold.

They allegedly are placing thousands of calls to phones all across the U.S. The phone rings once and then disconnects. Fraudsters hope you will call the number back out of curiosity and then promptly charge you $19.95 for an international call fee and an additional $9 dollars per minute.

Yeah, $9 per minute. The telltale area codes from those callers are 268, 809, 876, 284 and 473 (Grenada).

If you don't know, you can easily use your phone to block future calls. Google “block unwanted cell calls iPhone” or “block unwanted calls Android phone.”


Barter’s Closet launches an indiegogo campaign to raise $20,000

Spokane startup Barter's Closet is raising money via Indiegogo to help develop a mobile app.

This slick little video shows founder Connor Simpson making the pitch. Does a fine job highlighting how the clothes-trading business operates. They're trying to raise $20,000.

The company is based in the cool renovated Buchanan Building in downtown Spokane.


Spokane dog startup icPooch launches its second Kickstarter campaign for $20K

icPooch, the Spokane tech startup that wants the world to have a simple way to communicate long-distance with their dogs, is after a new round of funding, via Kickstarter.

Last year, Brooke Martin and her dad, Chris Martin, launched the company which intends to develop and sell a smart-device system that would let owners interact with their pets, via a smartphone or tablet.

Last summer they mounted a $70,000 Kickstarter campaign that wasn't successful.

They're now more than halfway to getting their new target of $20,000. They're at $13,000 and counting, with the Kickstarter campaign ending in early March.

The product primarily is a connected device that lets owners see and interact with their pets, provided the pet is sitting somewhere near the icPooch device. Apart from having a conversation with Fido, the owner is also able to provide the pet a treat, dispensed from a tray in the device.


Ben and Jerry’s downtown moves out — temporarily. Reopens in a week

The downtown Ben and Jerry's, in River Park Square, has not downsized.

It's moved temporarily into the corner spot of the third floor food court while its main service area is going through a total makeover.

The company expects to reopen in the fresh new food area around Feb. 12.

RPS is owned and operated by the Cowles Co., which also operates The Spokesman-Review.


The Epicenter is one of AudioControl’s most popular car-stereo items

Today's business story, about the Spokane workshop helping Seattle's AudioCenter gain more market share with its audio gear, had two photos by SR photographer Dan Pelle.

This post help show one of the company's most successful products, the $199-range Epicenter, designed for audio systems in cars and trucks. One of the best places to get it is through

The Epicenter was first released almost 25 years ago by the Seattle firm. It's been revised and improved a number of times since. Instead of being a bass booster, the Epicenter is described as a bass “restorer.”  Too often, in-line factory systems create an uneven jarring low end of bass tones.

The Epicenter injects low frequency information back into the signal, giving the bass a fuller and more natural sound. Plus, the Epicenter allows for controlling the low end frequencies for a smoother overall sound.


Olympia owners fined a second time for failing to file purchase notification

An Olympia moving company has been fined by Washington state for the second time in seven months for not filing an application before acquiring another moving company. In this newest case, the acquired company was based in Spokane.

The second penalty assessment, for $7,000, was issued to the owners of Bekins Northwest for not reporting the acquisition of Action Moving Services, Inc., of Spokane. That Spokane firm also operated a moving company in Kent, Accountable Moving & Storage.

The acquisition was dated Nov. 22, according to a release by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The UTC found Kris and Lauri O’Bannon, owners of Northwest Movers Central, LLC, and Northwest Movers, LLC, d/b/a Bekins Northwest, didn't file the application as required by state rules.

That fine was assessed based on $100 per day from Nov. 22, 2013, to Jan. 31, 2014, resulting in a penalty of $7,000.

On Aug. 16, 2013, the O’Bannons were assessed a $4,700 penalty for failing to file an application when they purchased the Olympia-based Bekins operation.

“Violations of this rule are potentially harmful to the public,” said Sharon Wallace, the UTC’s assistant director for consumer protection. “Without accurate ownership information about a regulated company, we can’t assist consumers with complaints or claims; we can’t provide an accurate complaint history or permit status; and we can’t ensure that a company is following laws related to proper insurance, driver drug-testing or vehicle safety.”

The release said the company has 15 days to do one of the following: pay the amount due, request a hearing to contest the violations, or request mitigation of the penalty.


Celebrate the Seahawks and the Seattle victory parade downtown tomorrow

It's still a Seahawks hangover kind of day.

Some locals have organized a Seahawks rally for Wednesday, Feb. 5, inside the River Park Square atrium in downtown Spokane.

It runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

KHQ-TV is directly involved, sending over its talent, including Stephanie Vigil, Dan Kleckner and Sam Adams.

Using the mall's 16-foot screen, the event will feature live-feed from the Seahawks parade in downtown Seattle.

All sorts of other stuff will be going on. Seahawk gear will be door-prized for participants.

Of course, you may regard this post as a pandering attempt to urge people to go into the mall, which we're obligated to say is owned by Cowles Co., the owners of The Spokesman-Review and KHQ.


Felix Baumgartner’s free-fall jump, shown in newly released RedBull video

This video is not business related, but it's very worth watching anyway.

It's the long-form YouTube video of Felix Baumgartner's space jump in 2012, from a height of 24.3 miles above the Earth.

A part of the Red Bull video will appear during Sunday's Super Bowl.

Associated Painters workers decorate an Alaska Airlines jet in cool video

Have you seen how Associated Painters, the company based at the Spokane Airport, paints those cool designs on different airplanes?
This video, on Alaska Airline's YouTube page, gives a great time-lapse of the process.

This clip shows the company's workers creating the pattern for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolf plane.

Fifty Associated Painters workers worked on the plane over six days, using 15,360 linear feet of masking tape, and channeling some serious university pride. It will begin flying primarily between Anchorage and Kodiak when Alaska Airlines' sister carrier, Horizon Air, introduces the Q400 to the state of Alaska on March 3.

URM Stores lists the 67 locations where card data was potentially exposed

URM Stores today listed the 67 Inland Northwest grocery stores where card transactions could have been captured during last fall's network security breach.  The stores are in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Oregon has the fewest stores: the four there are in Heppner, Enterprise, Joseph and Umatilla.

The Spokane grocery co-op posted the full list on its website today, then said it was not yet finished in investigating the attack.

The release avoided saying anything about who was behind the attack. The Secret Service is the lead agency investigating the crime.

See the link below this post to see the PDF listing the 67 “affected” stores. In this instance, affected means: stores where transactions could have been accessed by cyber criminals.




Fertility clinic opens SRM Spokane, with a staff of eight, in Spokane Valley

A Seattle reproductive medicine clinic has added a Spokane Valley office with a medical staff of eight people.

SRM Spokane, which opened in October, is the fifth location statewide operated by Seattle Reproductive Medicine. The first location in Seattle opened in 2004.

The Valley clinic is at 15920 E. Indiana Ave.

The staff includes one doctor, an embryologist, a registered nurse, two medical assistants, one andrologist, a nurse practitioner and an office manager. A second physician will join the team this summer, said Brad Senstra, SRM’s executive director.

Its services cover the gamut of fertility options, including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surgical procedures.

Senstra said the move to Eastern Washington reflects the growing number of patients from this side of the state who were traveling to Seattle. “Spokane and that region are large enough that the area was a bit underserved,” he said.

The expansion was assisted by Greater Spokane Incorporated. GSI staff worked with a site selector from Seattle to identify possible Spokane locations for SRM.

Skyhawks scoops up SoccerTots, now has programs for many age levels

Today's story (below) on Skyhawks Sports Academy is a smart move by the private firm.

See our earlier story, from 2012, where we review the history.

Skyhawks Sports Academy has acquired SoccerTots, a Spokane company providing physical development programs for toddlers and young children.

Skyhawks, headquartered in Mead, largely offers summer outdoor sports and activity camps for children from 3 to 12 years old. SoccerTots primarily offers indoor sessions.

“So they complement us both in providing more programs throughout the year and expanding the age group,” Skyhawks President Chris Stiles said.

A news release said the combined operation this year will provide sports programs to more than 75,000 children in 27 states and four Canadian provinces. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

More rides for young kids coming to Silverwood Theme Park

Silverwood Theme Park north of Coeur d’Alene is expanding again with more rides for younger children and families. The park will spend more than $1.2 million to nearly double its family entertainment area with three new rides – a kite glider, a giant puppy ride that barks on command, and a spinning family coaster – to open by this summer. Space for an additional ride  – a hot air balloon-themed attraction – will be prepared for a 2015 opening, and the kiddie Ferris wheel will be re-themed and moved to the new area, north of Garfield’s Summer Camp and east of the Butterflyer and Frog Hopper rides. New pathways with seating areas, trees and gardens will be added as well. Construction is expected to begin in February. Silverwood is the largest theme and water park in the Northwest. It opened in 1988. Information:

Bitcoin still widely misunderstood, even by those who write about it for a living

Still doing more thinking about Bitcoin, ever since the SR ran a story on Jan. 11 about the Volstead Act, a Spokane bar, starting to accept that crypto-currency as payment.

Today's story, for additional research, presents a tongue-in-cheek overview of other competing digital currencies. It comes by way of The Daily Beast; all you need to know is a few examples of the types of currencies surveyed: Coinye West, CatCoin and SexCoin.

Another, more serious look at the Bitcoin universe and its ability to be gamed, we suggest a recent cover article from Bloomberg Business.



Two of the top five credit unions in Washington are based in Spokane

We spotted a listing at the Puget Sound Business Journal of the state's five largest credit unions.

Two are based in Spokane. The list, based on total assets:

             Name                                       Assets                  Members

  • BECU                                     $11.5 billion            826,000
  • Wash. State Employees CU  $1.85 billion            208,200
  • STCU                                     $1.77 billion            114,800
  • Gesa CU                                $1.3 billion              114, 429
  • Numerica                               $1.25 billion             98,000


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The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

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Read all the posts from recent conversations on Office Hours.


John Stucke John Stucke is a deputy city editor who helps build local news coverage and writes about health care, bankruptcy and rural affairs.

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Alison Boggs Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on and its social networking accounts.

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Scott Maben Scott Maben is a Deputy City Editor who covers North Idaho news and higher education.

Addy Hatch is the city editor, and formerly was business editor.

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